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Thursday, October 7, 2010

A Few Canadian Literary Awards We Should Adopt, and a Few We Shouldn't.

So I just got back from Vancouver. This trip didn't have anything to do with the book tour; my husband and I just wanted to experience the city. There's a reason it's ranked as the 4th best city to live in the world. It's gorgeous. Canadians seem to have a kinder, gentler thing going on with the "no guns allowed" legislation. Just sayin. And their support of the arts has evolved beyond our Neanderthal attitudes. They actually think it's important.

While I was there, the shortlist was announced Tuesday for the Scotiabank Giller Prize, an award handed out every year for Canada's best English-language novel or book of short stories.
The five finalists are:
• David Bergen, for his novel, The Matter with Morris
• Alexander MacLeod, for his short-story collection, Light Lifting
• Sarah Selecky, for her short-story collection, This Cake Is for the Party
• Johanna Skibsrud, for her novel, The Sentimentalists
• Kathleen Winter, for her novel, Annabel

Ever heard of them? Me neither. They're Canadians, duh. But here's the thing. Two works on that list are debuts. And two are short story collections. I'm like, huh? Canadians read short stories? In the states, the only thing that sells worse than short stories is poetry. And to nominate two unknown writers for such a prestigious prize blows me away. Let's hear it for new voices!

So I Googled the award in an attempt to learn more, and discovered that Canada gives out a lot of literary awards. We do, too, of course, but theirs are so...Canadian. Here a few that got my attention:

  • Canadian Authors Association Awards for Adult Literature Honouring works by Canadian writers that achieve excellence without sacrificing popular appeal since 1975.
Canadians value popular appeal? How quaint. Americans worship popular appeal, but here, we call it pop culture. And we don't award it with literary honors. We throw our underwear at it.
Discriminatory, you say? Perhaps Canadian men in mid-career agreed, and in 2003, convinced the Writer's Trust to establish a companion award, the Timothy Findley Award, to honour male writers. In 2008, the Engel and Findley Awards were discontinued and merged into the new Writers' Trust Engel/Findley Award. Is everybody happy now?
Milton Acorn? Really? Does that sound like someone you'd like to know? And what the heck is a people's poet? Someone who writes poems that rhyme?
What's with these Canadians, they gotta award according to sex. Strangely, 'Pat' is an androgynous name. They should rename this the Patricia Lowther Award to avoid further confusion. BTW, Pat Lowther was murdered by her husband. I should think it would discourage a few female poets. Maybe it's just me.
Maybe the states should award in two languages. Pig Latin, anyone?
Does every state in our union sponsor a writing award? I don't know the answer to this. Do you?
Note to self: if Canadian literary humour writers (note the extra 'u' in there) are as funny than Canadian TV humour writers, this could be an easy steal for say, David Sedaris. Or Benny Hill, for that matter.
  • W.O. Mitchell Literary Prize for a writer who has made a distinguished lifetime contribution both to Canadian literature and to mentoring new writers.
Aw, that's nice. We oughta have one of these. It would have gone to James Dickey who was notorious for "mentoring" young writers, nudge nudge wink wink.
Sounds all hip and all, but is it art? (Yes, I actually said that.)
What, Ripley's isn't good enough for you?
For writing that is "inspirational to Canadian youth." Do we have one of these? For writing that is inspirational to American youth? Does American youth read? JK Rowling doesn't count. She's British. And Stephanie Meyer doesn't inspire. She's the Pied Piper of Teenage Girls. But I digress.

BTW, Husband and I discovered we're not supposed to say we're from America. We were told, "We're all North American, mate. You're from The States." Only I don't think he said 'mate.' Maybe he said 'you elitist continent hog.' Yeah, maybe that was it. Do they give out awards for that?